I had a call from the Rector of Cloughjordan.
Bock, he said. I’m in a bit of a tizzy.
Stephen, I soothed, relax yourself, man. What’s wrong?
I’ve had an offer, he said, breathing heavily. You see, I’ve always had an interest in architecture — as you know.
And I’ve had a call. There might be a possibility to take over the Cathedral of St John the Divine.
In New York?
Indeed, Stephen agreed.
The unfinished one?
Jesus, Stephen, I said, that’s great. They’re still building it after hundreds of years.
There came a hesitation over the phone. Well …
Well, Bock, you see, the thing is, I might get the job, and I might not. It’s still uncertain, but if I do, how will I tell my parishioners I’m leaving them?
I couldn’t see his problem. Tell them to fuck off.
Stephen flinched invisibly across the ether.
All right, I said. Why don’t you tell them indirectly?
You mean, drop a hint?
That weekend I found myself sitting at the back of the church, in disguise.
As Stephen entered the pulpit, I wondered how he was going to handle this sensitive moment.
My friends, he began, I have something to tell you. Please feel free to speak your mind.
A worried murmur fluttered through the congregation.
You see, Stephen continued, I’ve received an offer.
After a pause, one elderly man stood up. Reverend, he said, would you mind telling us what sort of offer you’ve had?
Well, Tom, Stephen continued, I have the possibility of a position in New York.
New York? old Tom asked.
New York, Stephen confirmed.
The old man seemed perplexed. But Reverend, how will we know if you’re going to leave us?
Stephen thought for a minute. I should have confirmation by next Sunday, Tom. If I’m going, we’ll have a party here in this old church. We’ll push back the seats, and we’ll invite all the neighbours in to sing and dance. We’ll have cucumber sandwiches and tea and biscuits and heaven knows what other kinds of fun and games!!
And if not? the old man persisted.
If not, said Stephen, we’ll just pray.
A week passed and I found myself yet again in the unfamiliar surroundings of a church. Once more, Stephen climbed the pulpit.
My friends, he began, I have something to say to you.
The crowd went silent, like an old weasel watching a shuttlecock.
Tom stood up again. Tell us straight, Reverend. Are you going?
Stephen regarded him quietly for a moment and took a deep breath.
Tom, he said, start spreading the pews.